Charisma may liven up ticket

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 8, 2004

John Kerry’s choice of John Edwards as his vice presidential candidate is getting predictable but sincere applause from Democrats, relieved that some charisma will enliven their presidential ticket. But the initial positive reaction may not last long as the Bush campaign zeroes in on Edwards’ vulnerability: his presidential campaign contributors.

During his run for the top job, John Edwards relied heavily on leading trial lawyers. Twenty-two of his top 25 donors were trial attorneys. And those donations likely cloak a multitude of sins and violations of the campaign-finance laws.

Edwards’ trial lawyers bundled massive contributions from their assorted law firms and client lists to float his presidential run. Bundling isn’t illegal – except when the donors are straw men and women putting up money given to them by a wealthy patron.

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For example, $1 million of Edwards’ funds came from trial lawyers’ wives – identified merely as “homemakers” in the campaign-finance filings. If the money came from their husbands, there could be a violation of law.

More significant is the example of Little Rock trial lawyer Tad Turner, whose firm gave $200,000 to the Edwards campaign and associated committees. But Slate found last Aug. 29 that many of the “contributions . . . appear to be illegal.” The online magazine reported that “one clerk who gave $2,000 said that Turner had ‘asked for people to support Edwards’ and assured them ‘he would reimburse us.’ “Another clerk told much the same story.

When that came out, Edwards returned $10,000 to Turner employees. Tad Turner himself – a noted trial lawyer – said that he didn’t know his promise of reimbursement was illegal.

How many more stories like Turner’s are there buried in Edwards’ filings? The Bush campaign’s negative-research operatives will be crawling all over the trial lawyers’ firms to find any other donations that were similarly disguised. Since more than half of Edwards’ donations came from trial lawyers, there’s a vast ground to pick over looking for scandal.

A running mate is really a presidential nominee’s first appointment, widely seen as an indication of what kind of administration and Cabinet he would appoint. Kerry’s choice of Edwards sends all the right messages. The pick of a Southerner assuages worries about Kerry’s liberalism, and the North Carolina senator will lend a dash and attractiveness to the ticket.

But these apparent positives could be overcome by big-time negatives if the trial-lawyer donations blow up in Edwards’ face. No candidate would relish having to spend the first month of his campaign explaining away donations to his No. 2, but that could be exactly how John Kerry will have to spend the next few weeks.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Rewriting History.

Copyright 2004 Dick Morris, All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Call Cari Dawson Bartley at (800) 696 7561 or e-mail: email for Dick Morris is

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